Anthony Chan Guan Fook.
Tucked away at Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling is a hidden gem for stamp enthusiasts – or philatelics. L. C. Lee & Co has been operating since 1939, and is the oldest professional stam-pdealing merchant in Malaysia and Singapore.
Their collection of stamps, postcards and first-day covers makes L.C. Lee famous among local stamp collectors and even philatelics from as far away as Germany and the UK. Notable items include Straits Settlements stamps bearing the portrait of Queen Victoria; they constituted the very first revenue stamp series issued for postal services throughout the Straits Settlements. There are also the Merdeka first-day covers that were privately designed by his father and printed using cyclo-printing machines, as well as vintage Malay States stamps bearing the portraits of the Malay Rulers of each state; these stamps, in mint condition, were issued by the British Malaya Postal Administration.
L.C. Lee’s current owner is a friendly man in his sixties, Anthony Chan Guan Fook. Forty years ago, he took over the business from his father and shop founder Chan Khaw Poon, who had started the business with two other partners, a Mr Lai and Mr Lee – hence the name of the shop, L.C. Lee & Co.
Khaw Poon enjoyed cordial relationships with employees working in various reputable private offices such as law firms and merchant houses throughout Penang. They would receive mail from within Malaya and abroad, and through them Khaw Poon managed to rapidly amass a huge collection of stamps.
Straits Settlements stamps. British colonial post office-issued Kelantan definitives.
Facade of L. C. Lee.
During the Japanese Occupation of Malaya, most of the businesses – especially those belonging to Chinese – were negatively affected and were forced to remain closed throughout the Occupation. However, L.C. Lee was one of the very few that remained open during this period – the Japanese army and its administrative officers had a deep passion for stamp collecting. As testament, Anthony shows me an envelope of L.C. Lee affixed with stamps issued by the Japanese administered post office – both on the front and back – bearing a flawless postal cancellation of the first anniversary of the Japanese Occupation.
Anthony took over the business after his father suffered a stroke. “It was challenging in the beginning,” he says, recounting his days and nights contacting the shop’s clientele and stamp dealers regarding the inheritance and subsequent new business arrangements. He travelled across Malaysia and abroad to markets such as Japan, Taiwan, Australia and Singapore to participate in international stamp exhibitions to forge relationships with other stamp dealers and collectors in a bid to further expand the business.
When asked about the popularity of stamp collecting today, Anthony remarks that in stark contrast with the belief that technological trends have largely extinguished interest in this hobby, it has instead greatly facilitated the sale of stamps worldwide by enabling stamp dealers from all around the world to engage in social media platforms, where they are able to trade and sell stamps much easily.
The huge financial value that some stamps carry with them makes them an alternative investment compared to conventional stock markets. According to Anthony, stamp collections, if done appropriately, will possess a high and steadily growing financial value as the value of rare stamps tend to go up by 10-15% on an annual basis.
As the shop turns 80 years old this year, signs are good that the “King of Hobbies” will continue to reign.
L. C. Lee is located at 60, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling.